New ambassador uses maiden speech to the security council to deliver the Trump administrations first rebuke to Moscow
The Trump administration has severely criticised Russia for the first time with its newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations lambasting Moscow for its military intervention in Ukraine.
Making her maiden address to a session of the UN security council on Thursday, Nikki Haley said: Eastern Ukraine of course is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russias aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.
Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine, said Haley, who was formerly governor of South Carolina.
Haleys remarks at the UN echoed the tough position she took on Russia at her Senate confirmation hearings but were in strong contrast to the tone taken by the White House which has been silent on Russian actions in Ukraine. Donald Trump has consistently praised Vladimir Putin and held an hour-long phone conversation with the Russian leader on Saturday, which was characterised by the Kremlin as friendly and focused on future joint action on counter-terrorism. The new upsurge of fighting in eastern Ukraine began soon after the Trump-Putin call.
In her speech at the security council, Haley appeared to acknowledge the White Houses desire to forge better ties with Moscow, but said Russian actions in Ukraine made it impossible to lift sanctions.
I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia, she said. It shouldnt happen, or be that way. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.
The United States and other western powers imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The new secretaries of state and defence, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, also took more anti-Russian and pro-Nato positions than Trump in their confirmation hearings, leaving many in western capitals and Moscow to wonder what the new administrations new policy would be.
In his report to the security council, the UN humanitarian chief, Stephen OBrien, warned that the escalation in the conflict around Avdiivka, a frontline town in government-held territory, and Donetsk, was not just killing civilians directly but could lead to large numbers of casualties by destroying infrastructure like urban heating systems and triggering the release of dangerous chemicals.
Today temperatures are -10C, but -20C is not unheard of at this time of the year. Adequate shelter, heating and access to water are therefore essential to peoples survival, OBrien warned. If hostilities continue, we may also be faced with a serious environmental crisis. Damage to the Phenol plant near Novgorodske village means that waste chemicals, including deadly sulphuric acid and formaldehyde, are now at critical levels. Leakage into the surrounding land and the Seversky Donets river would have disastrous humanitarian consequences in a highly industrialised part of Europe.